She could hear the dead man coming up the steps. The slow, measured sound of footsteps went before him, echoing amongst the purple pillars of her hall. Daenerys Targaryen awaited him upon the ebon bench that she had made her throne. Her eyes were soft with sleep, her silver-gold hair all tousled.
"Your Grace," said Ser Barristan Selmy, the Lord Commander of her Queensguard, "there is no need for you to see this."
"He died for me." Dany clutched her lion pelt to her chest. Underneath, a sheer white linen tunic covered her to mid-thigh. She had been dreaming of a house with a red door when Missandei woke her. There had been no time to dress.
"Khaleesi ," whispered Irri, "you must not touch the dead man. It is bad luck to touch the dead."
"Unless you killed them yourself." Jhiqui was bigger-boned than Irri, with wide hips and heavy breasts. "That is known."
"It is known," Irri agreed.
Dany paid no heed. Dothraki were wise where horses were concerned, but could be utter fools about much else. They are only girls, besides. Her handmaids were of an age with her; women grown to look at them, with their black hair, copper skin, and almond-shaped eyes, but children all the same. Khal Drogo had given them to her, who was her sun-and-stars. Drogo had given her the pelt too, the head and hide of a hrakkar, the white lion of the Dothraki sea. It was too big for her and had a musty smell, but it made her feel as if Drogo were still near her.
Grey Worm appeared atop the steps first, a torch in hand. His bronze cap was crested with three spikes. Behind him followed four of his Unsullied, bearing the dead man on their shoulders. Their caps had only one spie, and their faces showed so little they might have been cast of bronze as well. They laid the corpse down at her feet. Ser Barristan pulled back the blood-stained shroud. Grey Worm lowered the torch, so she might see.
The dead man's face was smooth and hairless, though his cheeks had been slashed open almost ear to ear. He had been a tall man, blue-eyed and fair of face. Some child of Lys or old Volantis, snatched off a ship by corsairs and sold into bondage in red Astapor. Though his eyes were open, it was his wounds that wept. There were more wounds than she could count.
"Your Grace," Ser Barristan said, "there was a harpy drawn on the bricks in the alley where he was found... "
"... drawn in his own blood." Daenerys knew the way of it by now. The Sons of the Harpy did their butchery by night, and over each kill they left their mark. "Grey Worm, why was this man alone? Had he no partner?" When the Unsullied walked the streets of Meereen by night, they always walked in pairs.
"My queen," replied the captain, "your servant Stalwart Shield had no duty last night. He had gone to a... a certain place... to drink, and have companionship."
"A certain place? What do you mean?"
"A house of pleasure, Your Grace." Beneath the spiked bronze cap, Grey Worm's face might have been made of stone.
A brothel. Half of her freedmen were from Yunkai, where the Wise Masters had been famed for training bed slaves. The way of the seven sighs. Brothels had sprouted up like mushrooms all over Meereen. It is all they know. They need to survive. Food grew more costly every day, whilst the pleasures of the flesh got cheaper. In the poorer districts between the stepped pyramids of Meereen's slaver nobility, there were brothels catering to every conceivable erotic taste, she knew. Even so... "What could a eunuch hope to find in a brothel?" she asked.
"Even those who lack a man's parts may still have a man's heart, Your Grace," said Grey Worm. "This one has been told that your servant Stalwart Shield sometimes gave coin to the women of the brothels, to lay with him and hold him."
The blood of the dragon does not weep. "Stalwart Shield," she said, dry-eyed. "That was his name?"
"If it please Your Grace."
"It is a fine name." The Good Masters of Astapor had not allowed their slave soldiers even names. Some of her Unsullied reclaimed their birth names after she had freed them; others chose new names for themselves. "Is it known how many attackers fell upon Stalwart Shield?"
"This one does not know. Many."
"Six or more," said Ser Barristan. "From the look of his wounds, they swarmed him from all sides. He was found with an empty scabbard. It may be that he wounded some of his attackers."
Dany said a silent prayer that somewhere one of them was dying even now, clutching at his belly and writhing in pain. "Why did they cut open his cheeks like that?"
"Gracious queen," said Grey Worm, "his killers had forced the genitals of a goat down the throat of your servant Stalwart Shield. This one removed them before bringing him here."
They could not feed him own genitals. The Astapori left him neither root nor stem. "The Sons grow bolder," Dany observed. Until now, they had limited their attacks to unarmed freedmen, cutting them down in the streets or breaking into their homes under the cover of darkness to murder them in their beds. "This is the first of my soldiers they have slain."
"The first," Ser Barristan warned, "but not the last."
I am still at war, Dany realized, only now I am fighting shadows. She had hoped to have a respite from the killing, some time to build and heal. Shrugging off the lion pelt, she knelt beside the corpse and closed the dead man's eyes, ignoring Jhiqui's gasp. "Stalwart Shield shall not be forgotten. Have him washed and dressed for battle, and bury him with cap and shield and spears."
"It shall be as Your Grace commands," said Grey Worm.
She stood. "Send a dozen men to the Temple of the Graces, and ask the Blue Graces if any man has come to them seeking treatment for a sword wound. And spread the word that we will pay good gold for the short sword of Stalwart Shield. Inquire of the butchers and the herdsmen too, and learn who has beem gelding goats of late." Perhaps they would be fortunate, and some frightened goatherd would confess. "Henceforth, see that no man of mine walks alone after dark, whether has the duty or no."
"These ones shall obey."
Daenerys pushed her hair back. "Find these cowards for me," she said fiercely. "Find them, so that I might teach the Harpy's Sons what it means to wake the dragon."
Grey Worm saluted her. His Unsullied closed the shroud once more, lifted the dead man onto their shoulders, and bore him from the hall. Ser Barristan Selmy remained behind. His hair was white, and there were crow's feet at the corners of his pale blue eyes. Yet his back was still unbent, and the years had not yet robbed him of his skill at arms. "Your Grace," he said, "I fear your eunuchs are ill-suited for the tasks you set them."
Dany settled on her bench and wrapped her pelt about her shoulders once again. "The Unsullied are my finest warriors."
"Soldiers, not warriors, if it please Your Grace. They were made for the battlefield, to stand shoulder to shoulder behind their shields, with their spears thrust out before them. Their training teaches them to obey, fearlessly, perfectly, without thought or hesitation... not to unravel secrets or ask questions."
"Would knights serve me any better?" Selmy was training knights for her, teaching the sons of slaves to fight with lance and longsword in the Westerosi fashion... but what good would lances do, against cowards who killed from the shadows?
"Not in this," the old man admitted. "And Your Grace has no knights, save me. It will be years before the boys are ready."
"Then who, if not Unsullied? Dothraki would be even worse." Her khalasar was tiny, and largely of green boys and old men. And Dothraki fought from horseback. Mounted men were of more use in open fields and hills than in the narrow streets and alleys of the city. Beyond Meereen's walls of many-colored brick her rule was tenuous at best. Thousands of slaves still toiled on vast estates in the hills, growing wheat and olives, herding sheep and goats, and mining salt and copper. Meereen's storehouses still held ample supplies of grain, oil, olives, dried fruit, and salted meat, but the stores were dwindling. So Dany had dispatched her khalasar to subdue the hinterlands, under the command of her three bloodriders, whilst Brown Ben Plumm took his Second Sons south to guard against Yunkish incursions.
The most crucial task of all she had entrusted to Daario Naharis, glib-tongued Daario with his gold tooth and trident beard, smiling his wicked smile through purple whiskers. Beyond the eastern hills was a range of rounded sandstone mountains, the Khyzai Pass, and Lhazar. If Daario could convince the Lhazarene to reopen the overland trade routes, grains could be brought down the river or over the hills at need... but the Lamb Men had no reason to love Meereen. "When the Stormcrows return from Lhazar, perhaps I can use them in the streets," she told Ser Barristan, "but until then I have only the Unsullied."
Dany wondered if Daario had reached Lhazar. Daario will not fail me... but if he does, I will find another way. That is what queens do. They find a way, a way that does not involve taking plows across the river. Even famine might be preferable to sending plows across the Skahazadhan. It was known. "You must excuse me, ser," she said. "The petitioners will soon be at my gates. I must don my floppy ears and become their queen again. Summon Reznak and the Shavepate, I'll see them when I'm dressed."
"As Your Grace commands." Selmy bowed.
The Great Pyramid shouldered eight hundred feet into the sky, from its huge square base to the lofty apex where the queen kept her private chambers, surrounded by greenery and fragrant pools. As a cool blue dawn broke over the city, Dany walked out onto the terrace. To the west sunlight blazed off the golden domes of the Temple of the Graces, and etched deep shadows behind the stepped pyramids of the mighty. In some of those pyramids, the Sons of the Harpy are plotting new murders even now, she thought, and I am powerless to stop them. Viserion sensed her disquiet. The white dragon lay coiled around a pear tree, his head resting on his tail. When Dany passed his eyes came open, two pools of molten gold. His horns were gold as well, and the scales that ran down his back from head to tail. "You're lazy," she told him, scratching under his jaw. His scales were hot to the touch, like armor left cooking too long in the sun. Dragons are fire made flesh. She had read that in one of the books Ser Jorah had given her as a wedding gift. "You should be hunting with your brothers. Have you been fighting Drogon again?" Her dragons had grown wilder of late. Rhaegal had snapped at Irri, and Viserion had set Reznak's tokar ablaze the last time the seneschal had called. I have left them too much to themselves, but where am I to find the time for them?
Viserion's tail lashed sideways, thumping the trunk of the tree so hard that a pear came tumbling down to land at Dany's feet. His wings unfolded, and he half-flew, half-hopped onto the parapet. He is growing, she thought, as the dragon launched himself into the sky. They are all three growing. Soon they will be large enough to bear my weight. Then she would fly as Aegon the Conquerer had flown, up and up, until Meereen was so small that she could blot it out with her thumb.
She watched Viserion climb in widening circles, until he was lost to sight beyond muddy waters of the Skahazadhan. Only then did Dany go back inside the pyramid, where Irri and Jhiqui were waiting to brush the tangles from her hair and garb her as befit the Queen of Meereen, in a Ghiscari tokar.
The garment was clumsy thing, a long loose shapeless sheet that had to be wound around her hips and under an arm and over a shoulder, its dangling fringes carefully layered and displayed. Wound too loose, it was like to fall off; wound too tight, it would tangle, trip, and bind. Even wound properly, the tokar required its wearer to hold it in place with the left hand. Walking in a tokar demanded small, mincing steps and exquisite balance, lest one tread upon those heavy trailing fringes. It was not a garment meant for any man who had to work. The tokar was a master's garment, a sign of wealth and power.
Dany had wanted to ban the tokar when she took Meereen, but her council had convinced her otherwise. "The Mother of Dragons must don the tokar or be forever hated," warned the Green Grace, Galazza Galare. "In the wools of Westeros or a gown of Myrish lace, Your Radiance shall forever remain a stranger amongst us, a grotesque outlander, a barbarian conquerer. Meereen's queen must be a lady of Old Ghis." Brown Ben Plumm, the captain of the Second Sons, had put it more succinctly. "Man wants to be the king o' the rabbits, he best wear a pair o' floppy ears."
The floppy ears she chose today were made of sheer white linen, with a fringe of golden tassels. With Jhiqui's help, she wound the tokar about herself correctly on her third attempt. Irri fetched her crown, wrought in the shape of the three-headed dragon of her House. Its coils were gold, its wings silver, its three heads ivory, onyx, and jade. Dany's neck and shoulders would be stiff and sore from the weight of it before the day was done. A crown should not sit easy on the head. One of her royal forebears had said that, once. An Aegon, but which one?
Five Aegons had ruled the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and there might have been sixth if the Usurper's dogs had not murdered her brother's son when he was still a babe at the breast. If he had lived I might have married him. Aegon would have been closer to my age than Viserys. Dany had scarcely been conceived when Aegon and his sister were murdered. Their father had perished even earlier, slain by the Usurper on the Trident. Her other brother Viserys had died sceaming in Vaes Dothrak with a crown of molten gold upon his head. They will kill me too, if I allow it. The knives that slew my Stalwart Shield were meant for me.
She had not forgotten the slave children the Great Masters had nailed up along the road from Yunkai. They had numbered one hundred sixty-three, a child every mile, nailed to mileposts with one arm outstetched to point her way. After Meereen had fallen, Dany nailed up a like number of Great Masters. Swarms of flies had attended their slow dying, and the stench had lingered long in the plaza. Yet some days she feared that she had not gone nearly far enough. These Meereenese were a sly and stubborn people who resisted her at every turn. They had freed their slaves, yes... only to hire them back as servants at wages so meagre that most could scarce afford to eat. Freedmen too old or young to be of use had been cast into the streets, along with the infirm and the crippled. And still the Great Masters gathered atop their lofty pyramids to complain of how the dragon queen had filled their noble city with hordes of unwashed beggars, thieves, and whores.
To rule Meereen I must win the Meereenese, however much I may despise them. "I am ready," she told Irri.
Reznak and Skahaz waited atop the marble steps. "Great queen," declared Reznak mo Reznak, "you are so radiant today I fear to look on you." The seneschal wore a tokar of maroon silk with a golden fringe. A small, damp man, he smelled as if he had bathed in perfume and spoke a bastard form of High Valyrian, much corrupted and flavored with a thick Ghiscari growl.
"You are kind to say so," Dany answered, in a purer form of the same tongue.